The Wesleyan covenant prayer has been making the rounds again. It is a beautiful prayer that I myself find moving and effective. This year I have seen a new contemporary version of the covenant prayer that claims to be in the Wesleyan tradition. At first I was pleased. I think that there is some value to changing the language of traditional prayers and the like to more contemporary language is a good and valuable thing. It does aid in understanding, it can help newer generations understand the ideas and beliefs of those who have come before them. Those are good things all in all. All to often, especially recently, there has been a trend toward “contemporary versions” meaning something different that updating language, but also to updating, and thus changing, meaning. To often “contemporary version” has come to mean “more appropriate to the postmodern self-important individual as authority crowd.”
The contemporary version of the covenant prayer does this in a small, and perhaps to some subtle, way. It changes what is said. It caters to those who would deny the historic teachings of the church so that they can pray the prayer yet still keep with their interpretation of scripture, the creeds,etc. Not the church’s interpretation, their own.
In this particular piece of contemporary revision, the reference to the Trinity (“And now o glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit”) is replaced with something else (“and now, o wonderful and holy God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer”).
First, the language used here is not an updated version of the original text that communicates the same idea in language better understood, it is a complete removal of the Trinity. Why? The only reason that it would make sense to remove the reference is because it is not easily explained or even completely explainable, so it has to go so that it can be inclusive of the beliefs of others. There are inevitably some who will claim that it only removes the gender specific language but the meaning is the same…that is, in a word, crap. The Trinity is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. If you are somehow offended by the usage of gender specific words, then there is no theology of substance there anyway. If we can not call Jesus “The Son” then there is a huge problem. He was a boy and He was a son. He was even the Son of God. How is the Holy Spirit gender specific? Trying to eliminate gender references is little more than a politically correct attempt at watering down the message of the gospel so that it is palatable to all, but effectively means nothing. It is an attempt to make it about us as individuals. It is a symptom of a root problem.
I know, it’s just a meme, and even just one in a series of memes that is expressing similar ideas. They express a faith that is not the faith of the church, is not the faith described by the church, but is a faith decided by individuals. Yes, we have an individual faith Jesus Christ and the work on the cross, but that faith was not intended to destroy the authority of the church, or even challenge the authority of the church to, at the very least, set the boundaries of what is Christian belief. Yes, it is just a prayer and a bad meme, but it does represent a common idea and practice in the church today to set our own theologies and to accept anything as truth subjectively rather than absolutely. The truth taught by the church is not subjective, it is absolute. To be fair, Jesus did ask the question “who do you think I am?” but it was not rhetorical and there was a right and a wrong answer. He did not ask it to imply that we all get to answer the question how we want, but rather to establish that there was one correct answer. That one correct answer does not need a “contemporary” translation to change it’s meaning. It’s meaning rather is living and true and therefore always already contemporary.